This summer I am studying the historic populations losses, and contemporary decline and isolation on the genetic structure of the federally threatened orchid Platanthera Leucophaea (The Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid). We are doing a population genetics study of the species, for plants like this that have undergone a dramatic decline in populations we want to understand that impact. One way we can do that is by using herbarium samples. We will be looking for any loss in unique alleles by comparing herbarium specimens to a contemporary range wide genetics study of the species. We should be able to see if the patterns observed today across the species are due to natural processes or if it could be induced by anthropogenic forces such as habitat loss and decline.
This project has really opened my eyes to all that plant biology and conservation has to offer. My first week here my mentor took me to the field museum to collect herbarium samples. It was thrilling to sort through exclusive samples of that species from the late 1800’s. My research experience has been everything I dreamed of and more. I routinely extract DNA and run PCR. The skills that I have learned in the lab this summer has been the hallmark of my CBG experience. On Monday I will be joining my mentor and folks from the U.S Fish and Wild Service to survey a field of said species. I look forward to seeing living orchids and looking at the project from a different lens.